Rajee Samarasinghe


Rajee Samarasinghe (Sri Lanka / USA) is a filmmaker from Sri Lanka currently based in the United States. His work tackles contemporary sociopolitical conditions in Sri Lanka through the scope of his own identity and the deconstruction of ethnographic practices. Samarasinghe received his BFA from UCSD and his MFA from CalArts. He is currently working on his debut feature, Your Touch Makes Others Invisible, inspired by his childhood experiences during the Sri Lankan civil war. This project received a Sundance Documentary Fund grant in 2019 and was invited to Berlinale Talents’ Doc Station as well as True/False Film Festival’s inaugural PRISM program in 2020. He was also named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2020. His films have been exhibited at venues internationally including at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Film Society of Lincoln Center, MoMA, FIDMarseille, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, and Media City Film Festival. He received the Tíos Award for Best International Film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Film House Award for visionary filmmaking at the Athens International Film + Video Festival. He programmed for both the REDCAT and the Slamdance Film Festival in 2020.


ONLINE SCREENING DATES: December 2 – December 23, 2020

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: The Spectre Watches Over Her, 14 min, 2016

The Spectre Watches Over Her, 14 min, 2016

A reaction to the seminal text by Swiss anthropologist Paul Wirz entitled “Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon,” this high contrast hand processed film considers a history of colonialism and ethnographic practices in South Asia. At my mother’s village, I restaged an exorcism once performed on her in the early 1960s when she was a little girl. Possessed by the lecherous entity known as the Kalu Kumara, the Sanni Yakuma healing ritual was performed over a 12-hour period.

In 1998, when Rajee Samarasinghe was 10, his family left Sri Lanka—then in the middle of its multidecade civil war—for Irvine, California, where his youthful interest in illustration shifted to a focus on films. Taking advantage of free VHS rentals from a nearby public library, Samarasinghe would watch three to four movies a day. He quickly noticed that in a lot of mainstream films, “there wasn’t an interesting approach to form. That’s why I went to experimental film programs to learn.” After studying at UC San Diego, Samarasinghe completed an MFA at CalArts in 2016, where he was a TA for James Benning during his final semester. 

The Los Angeles-based Samarasinghe has completed a number of experimental shorts—four since the pandemic started alone—which he’s just begun submitting to festivals. His subject matter, he says, includes “Sri Lankan civil war, my family and deconstructing documentary and narrative cinema.” Working in color as well as black and white, and in aspect ratios from Instagram’s rectangle to 2.35 widescreen, Samarasinghe says his self-described “formal eccentricities and innovations” stem from his interest in thinking deconstructively about film form. In a number of his works, one square—black or with an image on it—will float over the main frame, unexpectedly destabilizing the image as it appears or disappears. In this year’s silent short, the past, Samarasinghe alternates between forest shots suggesting Nathaniel Dorsky, but digital, and two women’s faces in extreme close-up. The latter images initially look like something from a commercial, but their duration creates a heightened awareness of how light plays over the human subjects. > Full article here.

Screening co-presented with the Canadian Filmmaker’s Distribution Centre.